Kampala rises as Nairobi goes to the dogs

Wednesday September 24 2014

A smooth traffic flow in Kampala. PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Uganda’s capital Kampala is by no means a model 21st century city. However, compared with the big brother Nairobi, Kampala should rank some light years ahead with regards to cleanliness, safety and general order.

For a city that arose in 1986, from the ashes of long running civil war, the managers of Kampala must be commended for the ground so far covered. It is a place a first-time visitor would not hesitate to give another go. After all, even the cost of living in Kampala is nothing out of this world.

Nairobi may be basking in the glory of being the regional transport hub and the capital of East Africa Community’s largest economy, but its stature is surely on the wane.

The filthiness, the disorder and the insecurity that define Nairobi, leave no doubt that those charged with the task of running the emerging metropolis have failed miserably. Nairobi’s general populace has become accustomed to disorder, to the extent of hailing such Neanderthal conduct as parading wares for sale in non-designated areas and driving on the wrong side of the road and on pavements to beat traffic jams.

In Kampala, heaps of rotting garbage and street corners that men have converted into giant urinals are hard to come by. Equally missing from the mix are the burst or overflowing sewers like the ones dotting Landhies Road, just next to two of Nairobi’s giant food markets and its largest bus terminus.

Kampala is also safer. The sight of gun-wielding watchmen and soldiers everywhere you go could be a bit unsettling for some, but then again, why not, if that is what it takes to ensure security for the majority?


Those frisking you with metal detectors as you enter a secured premise in Kampala are thorough and leave no doubt that they know what they are doing. In Nairobi, most of those charged with this delicate responsibility seem to do it to merely be seen to be executing their mandate. Sometimes, they just let you in without bothering.

Any wonder than that Kenya’s capital has become Al Shabaab’s softest target?

Like is the case with every other struggling Third World city, the motorcycle taxis (boda boda) are ubiquitous in Kampala. However, unlike their Nairobi counterparts, the Kampala boda boda operators boast a semblance of decorum, by at least keeping to the road and restricting themselves to the correct side.

Kampala’s equivalent of public service vehicles do not have the best of reputations. However, they too would score much higher marks than the Nairobi lot. In Kampala, public service vehicle operators strictly adhere to size and colour code.

All PSVs are 14-seaters and are either white or black in colour, with blue strips. None have fancy writing or illustrations on their bodies and that loud music that assaults the ears of an average Nairobi commuter does not exist.

The neat lawns around shopping malls, roadsides and parks leave no doubt that the Kampalans have a sense of aesthetics.

Kampala has its slums such as the populous Nyamugongo. But the latter is a paradise compared with Nairobi’s Mathare Valley, Kibera or the numerous Mukurus. Nyamuongo has public toilets enough to meet the needs of its low-income inhabitants and they make good use of tem. No “flying toilets” here and no smell of filth all around.

With Rwanda’s capital Kigali in a class of its own as probably the cleanest and most orderly city in sub-Saharan Africa, little doubt exists that all it takes is a leadership determined to get things right. Kigali, like the rest of Rwanda, was raised from the ashes of the 1994 genocide that completely destroyed its infrastructure and rid it of nearly half its population.

Just over two decades down the line, the difference is there for all to see. Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero may have the long-term plans he is fond of talking about, but he long lost it when he failed to make residents realise that there was a new sheriff in town, the moment he was enthroned.

Nairobians may have to squander another five years before a possible mental re-engineering that could change the city’s fortunes.

The synchronised traffic control Kidero initiated remains a white elephant, at best. The traffic code is ignored with abandon by all and sundry, with any culprits ever punished. Then there are the police and the so-called traffic marshals to add to the confusion.

Going east, west, south or north, every section of a journey in Nairobi is punctuated with the sights of litter, heaps of rotting garbage, burst sewers and vegetation or walls discoloured by urine.